Who Is the Liverpool Player Who Has Been Criminally Underused This Season?

Rob LancasterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2017

Daniel Sturridge has only started twice for Liverpool so far this season.
Daniel Sturridge has only started twice for Liverpool so far this season.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Too many goals conceded at one end, not enough scored at the other. Liverpool's season has been a case of what-ifs, bar one glorious team display against Arsenal at the end of August.

It shows the level of expectation manager Jurgen Klopp has built that sitting fifth in the Premier League table and remaining unbeaten in the UEFA Champions League through two games feels a tad underwhelming.

The reason? The early stages could, really should, have gone better.

Watching Liverpool's games is not so much an entertaining experience as an emotional journey. While they have continued to deliver delightful periods of attacking play, there remains a soft underbelly that undermines so much of the good work done when in possession of the ball.

Add in a litany of missed chances, and you have a giant helping of sheer frustration. Profligate up top and porous at the back, this version of the Reds is driving their supporters up the wall.

But there remains hope things will improve. Someone is going to regret running into a Liverpool team eager to make up for their previous indiscretions.

Injuries and suspensions have hampered the selection process. Klopp still remains without Nathaniel Clyne and Adam Lallana, while Philippe Coutinho was absent (call it injured if you like, but that bad back healed awfully quickly once the calendar turned to September) until recently.

Coutinho has featured regularly since the transfer window closed, showing just why his club stood firm under heavy pressure from Barcelona by scoring goals against Leicester City and Spartak Moscow.

His return has given Klopp another option to utilise in either midfield or further forward. The German knows he needs to shuffle his squad around with the added pressure of playing in Europe this season, even if an early exit from the Carabao Cup has eased the fixture list a little.

But despite the need to manage minutes, some have yet to make an impact. Twitter users were asked which Liverpool player Klopp has been guilty of neglecting in the opening months of the campaign.

Daniel Sturridge's win was hardly a shock. However, the slender margin of victory was a little surprising considering the calibre of the players on the list.

Andrew Robertson is having to be patient at a new club because of the form of Alberto Moreno at left-back, while James Milner's return to the midfield ranks sees him stuck at the back of a lengthy queue. Both players would be solid if given more games, but would they make a difference?

Others receiving votes included Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (even though he's appeared regularly since signing from Arsenal on deadline day) and Dominic Solanke, a forward who feels like he's learning on the job in Liverpool's first team after barely featuring for Chelsea previously.

Sturridge, in contrast to Solanke, is a tried-and-tested performer in the Premier League, yet he's played only 220 minutes of first-team football for the Reds this season, according to Transfermarkt.

Of his six appearances in all competitions, two of them were starts—against Crystal Palace and Burnley at Anfield—and he only completed 90 minutes in one of them.

A hamstring problem meant a delayed beginning to his campaign, with the injury an untimely setback after his manager had praised the player's efforts during a hectic pre-season.

"We don't have to talk about what a difference he could make," Klopp told James Pearce of the Liverpool Echo. "Everybody knows about it. We just need to have it. We need him fit."

Less than a fortnight later after the German's kind words, Sturridge was back in the treatment room.

Liverpool cannot count on his continued fitness—but they can lean on him to add something different to a team that is too often guilty of fluffing its lines in front of goal, according to writer Joel Rabinowitz.

"There have been brief flashes of what he has to offer, most notably with his goal in the 4-0 thrashing against Arsenal and his outstanding cameo in the 3-2 defeat of Leicester, setting up Jordan Henderson's winner superbly," Rabinowitz, a contributor to the Anfield Wrap, said.

"He showed in that performance that he can be a really effective option for Klopp despite not having his razor-sharp pace of old, often dropping deep to link play and using his composure and experience to give Liverpool an extra cutting edge up front.

"Roberto Firmino's form has dipped of late, and given Liverpool's lack of ruthlessness in front of goal, it would make sense to give Sturridge a run of games to build up some rhythm and consistency in his game.

"He's still the club's most natural and clinical goalscorer and can have a major role to play this season should he stay fit and avoid the injuries that have plagued him in recent years."

Per Transfermarkt, Sturridge sat out 10 Premier League games last season because of either illness or injury. During his Liverpool career, he's missed considerable time with hip and hamstring issues.

But there's something about the former Chelsea forward that makes him worth persevering with, even if his body is more brittle than a Cadbury's Flake left in the fridge overnight. He's a tempting but fragile treat, a free spirit who plays as if he's just having a knockabout with his mates down the park.

While Sadio Mane can produce magic, Mo Salah provides top-end speed and Firmino forever works hard for the team's cause, none of Liverpool's regular starters up top are as deadly in front of goal as the ice-cool Sturridge.

"His gigantic injury list has seen him lose most of his speed but turned him into a clinical finisher as well," Matt Thielen of LFC Transfer Room said. "With the squad scoring just seven goals in their past six matches, Liverpool are foolish to not use their best finisher. Whenever Sturridge has been subbed on, he has made an immediate impact.

"With Liverpool's fantastic four (Coutinho, Mane, Salah and Firmino) crashing and burning in Russia [against Spartak Moscow], Sturridge should be given the start against Newcastle United on Sunday.

"If we wait much longer, he will surely have another hamstring injury and the club would be forced to put him into a bubble-wrap suit once again. If I am Klopp, I'm taking advantage of the best finisher at the club while he can still kick a ball."

Despite the absences, Sturridge has bagged 62 goals for Liverpool in 125 appearances.

It may be too much to hope to see a return of the version who, along with strike partner Luis Suarez, came close to firing former manager Brendan Rodgers' free-scoring squad to the title in 2013/14.

But at 28, he surely deserves to be seen as more than a last resort. Mollycoddling him makes sense considering his medical record. Leaving him to rot on the bench, however, feels like a waste of natural talent. This is an England international, a player of serious pedigree. Make the most of him while you can.

Sturridge is the most intriguing piece in Liverpool's puzzle. Rather than try to work out exactly where he goes, Klopp may be better served just forcing him into a spot with such gusto he eventually fits in.

           

Rob Lancaster is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes used in the article were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.